Free-to-Air Collective

Meet Locast – A free local TV streaming service

Locast is a non-profit public streaming service that allows access to local broadcasting across the USA. At the time of writing this article, Locast was delivering local TV channels via the internet into 23 US TV markets containing more than 144 million viewers or 44,3% of the US population. They’ve just added the Detroit area this week and Minneapolis/St. Paul last month.

It was created in New York in 2018 by Sports Fans Coalition NY (SFCNY), a New York-based non-profit, fan-advocacy group. The chairman and founder, David Goodfriend, is a well-known attorney and advocate from Washington DC who served as Deputy Staff Secretary to President Bill Clinton. 

The usage of Locast is straightforward. You don’t need to own a satellite or cable packages to be able to stream the content. You can install or download one of the free Locast apps available for iOS, tvOS, Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, TiVo, or Roku. However, keep in mind that there are no recording options, only live TV. The other way of streaming via Locast is to use a website that has a built-in web-based viewer. You have to open a free Locast account if you want to stream from any of these platforms. 

The organization says it operates under the same copyright statute that lets broadcast translators receive and transmit a primary local broadcast TV station without a copyright license. According to Sports Fans Coalition NY, that means that:

“Locast.org operates under the same copyright statute that allows broadcast translators to receive and transmit a primary local broadcast TV station without a copyright license, meaning it may provide the digital translator service to you even if local broadcasters object. Any “non-profit organization” could make a “secondary transmission” of a local broadcast signal, provided the non-profit did not receive any “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and either offered the signal for free or for a fee “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs” of providing the service. 17 USC. 111(a)(5).”

Free but not really?

Locast is a free service, but you’ll need to donate $5 per month for uninterrupted viewing. If not, you will continue getting a 15-second promotion whenever you switch to a different channel and an ad every 15 minutes when using the service. Locast argues that because it doesn’t have any benefits from the commercial transmission, and that it uses these donations to help cover its costs, including maintaining antennas in the cities it supports, sending the signals to computer servers, and transcoding the streams for delivery over the internet.

The future of Locast?

In July 2019. Locust was sued by Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC because they recognized it as a threat and very similar to Aereo. They stated that Locast is not a completely non-profit organization, but commercial and that it violates their copyrights programming. Plaintiffs  argue that “by virtue of several Acts of Congress, those providers must have a license to retransmit copyrighted television programming, notwithstanding that the programming is broadcast over the air by Plaintiffs and their local affiliates, and must also secure the consent of the broadcasters to retransmit the broadcast signals.”

Locast’s defence is based on the claim that it could retransmit these signals and the copyrighted programming contained therein without authorization according to an exemption in the 1976 Copyright Act adopted to support a government or other non-profit services that 

(a) do nothing more than boost a local broadcast signal to those who cannot receive it, 

(b) “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage,” and

(c) without any charge other than cost-defraying “assessments.”

Fighting the TV giants is very difficult and requires substantial financial plans, so Locast launched a GoFundMe campaign last December in order to get enough financial support for this endeavour. Their statement reads as follows: 

“Locast is an independent, non-profit organization that provides a public service retransmitting free over-the-air broadcasts. Its activities are expressly permitted under the Copyright Act. The fact that no broadcasters have previously filed suit for more than a year and a half suggests that they recognize this. We look forward to defending the claims — and the public’s right to receive transmissions broadcast over the airwaves — in litigation.” 

– David Hosp, counsel to Locast

Several big players in the industry recognized Locast’s vision. In 2019, AT&T donated $500,000 to Sports Fans Coalition NY, the not-for-profit organization that operates Locast. In March 2020. EFF (The Electronic Frontier Foundation) joined in defending this organization. 

Locast also filed a countersuit, arguing that Fox, CBC, ABC, and NBC ‘have colluded and misused copyrights to expand their market power beyond what those copyrights were intended to protect’. “This is classic copyright abuse,” the lawsuit reads, and “the networks have misused copyrights to expand their market power beyond what those copyrights were intended to protect.”

As the legal fight is still ongoing, this article will be occasionally updated with new information. 

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